The summer holidays are approaching, and finally, you are free to enjoy. Unfortunately, many people pack their holidays so full of activities or work so much during their holiday that there’s not enough time to relax and recharge their batteries. But the ultimate purpose here is specifically to relax and recharge your batteries. This is a small introduction to the title of my article, “Work-life balance.” After the summer holidays, 11 months of hard work will follow. Unfortunately, words like exhaustion and burnout touch so many people these days. I suppose there are many reasons for burnout, typically too much work and too much stress, but I would say that we are one of the main reasons because it is we who make these decisions.

Whatever the reason, we should try to leave the situation, or even our workplace, if necessary, before it is too late. Otherwise, if we, again and again, find ourselves in a situation where we have to choose between work or our family, work or our friends, work or our health, work or our happiness, and if we always choose work, we may one by one loose the other things mentioned, and then finally even our work, when we have become so ill that it is no longer possible to work. In this article, I reflect on why so many people find it difficult to manage their work-life balance and what might help.

Work-life balance

Work-life balance refers to maintaining a good relationship between your work and personal life. How do you manage your time and activities to meet both your professional and personal/private life needs and obligations? Also, paying proper attention to your self-care and well-being, both physically and mentally.

If we go back just 40 years, before we had the technology we have today, working life was different. I remember that we didn’t talk much about work-life balance issues back then because this was not a problem for most people. Of course, some people struggled with work-life balance then, too, but much less so than now.

There has been a fundamental change in this respect. Today, almost all of us know someone who, if they have not yet had burnout, have at least suffered from severe exhaustion because of their job. And 100% of us can regularly read in the media about people who have huge problems reconciling their work and private life, and burnouts seem to be popping up like mushrooms in the rain. Why is this? There are many reasons, but one thing is certain: modern technology, laptops, the Internet, smartphones, social media, and all kinds of applications that control what we do have greatly changed the way companies and we work. Our personal values, attitudes, expectations and ways of behaving have also changed. It is difficult to say which factors are influencing how much and where, but I think the single most important factor is ourselves. We make our own decisions, or at least we should. So, it is also good to look in the mirror when exhaustion or burnout sets in.

We live in the present time, so our expectations and opinions about things relate to the present. We have different priorities when we are 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years old. As time passes, we experience new things that shape and impact how we see the world, including our attitude towards our work-life balance. For many, work-life balance does not feel like a big thing when they are young and in their prime, and they think they are invincible. But when you look at the business world today, it feels like the people in their prime seem to have the most significant difficulties managing their work-life balance compared to older generations. The number of burnouts in the business world nowadays almost seems like part of their job description.

Some reasons for present-day difficulties managing the work-life balance

  • Letting our desire to succeed in work life push us to bite off more than we can chew.
  • Letting other people’s expectations dictate what we do and how much we do.
  • Modern business world values seem to favour success, this increasing the pressure on many.
  • For some, all three reasons above apply simultaneously, creating even more pressure on them.
  • Technology is a constant distraction; there is hardly a job where we are not using a PC daily and are somehow digitally connected throughout the working day.
  • Mobile phones, the Internet, and social media take hours of our time from us every day.
  • The line between work time and private time is, for many, like a line drawn in the water; they are in constant awareness, connected and reachable 24/7, always on – never off work.
  • Social media provides a platform where many like talking about their work. Some are seduced by the limelight and give in to the temptation to brag about how fantastic they are in a way that does not always correspond to reality. Then, when things go from bad to worse, and the truth comes out, they face a public shame they cannot endure. This does not directly fall under the heading of work-life balance, but it will have a direct impact on it.

Getting burnout impacts anyone’s work-life balance, messing up people’s lives. Causing severe health issues, potential financial problems, long-term unhappiness, and mental scars. It is good to understand that noticing that your work-life balance is starting to take a wrong turn is not always as easy as one might imagine.

Overworking, overdoing, and ever more stress kind of creep slowly and almost unnoticed into your daily work habits. In the beginning, you consciously overwork a little, but you feel that you are in control. At some point, you may realize you have started ignoring your loved ones, friends, and well-being, but you still do nothing to correct the situation. Then, chances are things will slowly deteriorate, first leading to serious exhaustion and eventually even burnout.

  • Some may understand things are not going well but do not have the willpower to stop anymore.
  • Others have already crossed the point of no return, and after that, chances are they may not even be aware of what is happening anymore. They just continue to keep pushing on till they crash.
  • If you see someone clearly struggling with this, don’t hesitate to talk to them. You may be their last chance to stop in time and get help.

How could we prevent this from happening in the first place? Number one thing: Pay attention to prioritizing your work-life balance., e.g. make some basic rules you must follow. It does not have to be anything grand or complicated. For example, “no work after 18.00”, “Saturday and Sunday are work free time zones”, “exercising 2-3 times a week”, “spending x hours a week with my family and friends” or “no work during holidays”. Or something else fitting your particular needs. Then, a conscious follow-up of how you manage your work-life balance is needed, and mind you, also the courage and willpower to hold on to your prioritization. Do not let others (or yourself) impact you to change your mind. Mind you; this takes an effort. It is almost always easier to say yes than no.

Some make the mistake of thinking that prioritizing a good work-life balance is a sign of a lack of ambition or weak decision-making. In my mind, they are wrong. I feel it is the opposite. The more challenging and demanding a job is, the more you need a good work-life balance, good relations back home, spending time with good friends and good physical and mental health to support you in your work. An overworked, overstressed employee with a deteriorating home and health situation who, on top of this, is on the track to make these things even worse, maybe all the way to getting burnout, is not in any employer’s best interest. Of what use are you to your employer after this. If you cannot even understand this, how good a decisionmaker are you?

Some say, “My job is very stressful indeed, but I now have a high salary. If I do not constantly overwork, I may lose my salary, and then I cannot upkeep my fancy lifestyle” – “I am very ambitious. This job means the world to me.” – “This is so important that I work my back off, work 24/7, and do whatever it takes. My work-life balance has to come second.” or “I am so important in my job that I am indispensable. No one else can do this.”

What these and similar reasons have in common is that work always comes first, whatever happens, and everything else is secondary. The more you think this way, the more likely you are to one day find yourself in a situation where you risk burnout, with the risk of losing your happiness, your health, your job, maybe getting financial problems and then, if you have a family, perhaps that, too will eventually go.

I know there are no easy choices here. However, you must make a choice. The choice is yours and yours only. No one is holding a gun over your head here. You either maintain a good work-life balance, or you pay the price for what happens if you don’t.

No one is perfect, so no matter what we do, I guess we will all have a few regrets regarding our work-life balance. However, no one has ever said on their deathbed, “I wish I’d spent more time at work”. When people are asked, “Do you have any regrets in life?” global surveys all give the same answers. The top 2 regrets are “I wish I’d spent more time with my loved ones and friends – and with myself” and “I wish I’d lived the life I wanted and not so much to others’ expectations.” But if we learn from our experiences and try to help people we see struggling with this, we can help some. People seem to like making their own mistakes, but no harm in trying.

Maybe managing your work-life balance is something to pay attention to at any age. And, if we include work-life balance analysis as an integral part of our career planning, chances are, we might have a little fewer regrets on the other end. Who knows?

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